Amidst the current transfer carousel that exists within the Syracuse basketball program (and across the country), there is one certainty: Buddy Boeheim is returning for his senior season.
The sheer fact that that statement needed to be made shows you just how far Boeheim has come this season. I mean, would anyone have thought Boeheim would have been on the NBA radar during his junior season, let alone at all?
When I’m not moonlighting as a writer for The Juice, I am, uh…sunshining (?) as a producer for TBS during its March Madness coverage. On more than one occasion, studio analysts Andy Katz (a long-time NCAA insider), Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith (who both know a thing or two about NBA talent) heaped praise on Boeheim as “Syracuse’s best player” and “a next-level talent.”
Could it be?
For long stretches of this season, the label of “best Syracuse player” was shared by both Quincy Guerrier or, at times, Alan Griffin. Meanwhile, Boeheim was slumbering his way through the middle of February, battling a bout with COVID-19 and carrying a 37 percent field goal percentage and shooting just 29 percent from beyond the arc.
But, something clicked for Boeheim from that point on, as he scored in double figures in each of Syracuse’s final 12 games. He scored at least 20 points in seven of his final 10 games, averaging 23 points per game in that span.
His shooting percentages? Up to 57 percent overall and 45 percent from deep. And, once postseason play hit, he averaged 25 points in five games. And that included being blanketed by Houston’s DeJon Jarreau, who held Boeheim to 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
It was the truth. Boeheim had grown to become Syracuse’s best player by season’s end, carrying his dad’s team to yet another Sweet 16 appearance as a double-digit seed.
So, what is it about Boeheim’s skill set that now has the eyes of NBA scouts taking notice?
The biggest growth in Boeheim’s game has not been his shooting. He’s always had that in his arsenal. But, the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to his shot wherever he wants is a noticeable difference. He’s now not just a catch-and-shoot guy. If someone overcommits to his jump shot, he can drive past them and pull up. Or, he can back down a defender, turn and rise up over him and shoot.
So, who does Boeheim compare to at the next level?
The ceiling for what Boeheim could ever hope to become would be JJ Redick. It seems unlikely that Boeheim could ever reach Redick’s level. Redick was a five-star recruit coming out of high school that left Duke as the NCAA all-time leader in 3-pointers made (a record that stood until 2014).
Redick now is in his 15th season in the NBA, turning himself from deadly shooter into a well-rounded offensive player.
But, that’s the pie in the sky comparison Boeheim hopes to reach.
How about Steve Novak? The former Marquette Golden Eagle turned in a serviceable career as a long-distance shooter with length. And while Boeheim is 6-foot-6, Novak had four inches on him.
Perusing the modern NBA landscape helps draw comparisons to Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson. Robinson never seemed like an NBA prospect from his time at Michigan. And while undrafted, Robinson has turned himself into one of the NBA’s most dangerous marksmen, an ever-moving threat to pull up from deep.
Perhaps the best comparison to Boeheim, though, is someone from his own backyard.
Fellow Syracuse sharp-shooter Andy Rautins has taken a similar career path. Joining the Syracuse team, Rautins was a known shooter who did little else. But, by the end of his college career, he had contoured his game to be able to come off screens and shoot, handle and distribute the basketball and learned how to create shots for himself inside the arc.
Rautins’ career trajectory landed him a spot on the New York Knicks roster after being drafted with the 38th overall pick in 2010. However, he played just five games for the Knicks that season, his only one in the league.
The fact that Boeheim has captured the attention of the professional ranks at this point, let alone at all, has surprised many, including Buddy himself. He stated during the NCAA Tournament that “it’s crazy to think” that he could one day play in the NBA, saying he had only ever dreamed of playing for his dad in central New York.
But, maybe it isn’t crazy. Hard work, attention to detail and good genes have put Buddy Boeheim on the map. Raise your hand if you thought that was a concept you saw coming to fruition. Go ahead…I’ll wait for you to put your hand back down…
…because not even Buddy saw that one coming.